This is the official breast versus bottle post that has been rattling around my head for months. If you’re not interested, I get it…see you Monday.
I’m not a breastfeeding advocate.
I’m not a formula feeding advocate.
I’m an advocate for women and their choices.
Since becoming a formula-feeding mom I have had so many eye opening experiences about the mommy wars people talk about. My first was the war within myself and the way in which I judged people prior to being a mom myself. But being five months into this journey, it’s important to me to speak up for all of the moms–including the formula feeding moms who are demonized and the breastfeeding moms who are shunned from public view–and speak in one clear voice for those who find themselves somewhere in the middle of it all wondering what in the hell to do.
At least three times in the past two days, different people have posted on forums that I am part of online about how they are having trouble breastfeeding and the immense guilt they feel over it. And every single time the first thing that comes out of people’s comments is a litany of suggestions that other mothers assume have not been tried. Lactation consultants. La Leche Leauge. Lactation cookies. Fenugreek. Blessed Thistle. Howling at the moon. You name it, it’s been suggested. And quite honestly, very few of those mothers asked for suggestions…they asked for support. As someone who has had to make that transition from the world of breastfeeding to the world of formula feeding, the support is hard to find.
I went through my entire pregnancy thinking that my kids would never taste a drop of formula in their lives. I was told that I had to breastfeed to be a good mother and I was going to be a good mother come hell or high water. I took a breastfeeding class. I read books. I went to websites. I investigated nursing clothing and accessories. I was prepared.
Prepared for everything except the fact that my body would not make enough milk to sustain one baby let alone the two I had to feed.
All of us breastfeeding dropouts speak in the same hushed tones in the formula aisle and in the living rooms of our homes. We start out by bravely telling a fellow mom that breastfeeding “didn’t really work for us” and that we “really tried hard!” and when they say it didn’t work for them either we both let out a huge sigh of relief like we’re talking about the Resistance in occupied France. Then we commiserate and talk about formula feeding issues and almost always talk about how much guilt we had for being failures.
Listen to me: we are talking about mothers who care enough about their kids to be worried about them and feed them with love yet who feel guilty because they aren’t able to breastfeed. What kind of world do we live in anyhow?
Stop telling me that in order to be a whole woman or a good mom that I need to breast feed. My self-worth is not contingent upon my breasts. Never has been. Never will be. Never should be. It’s great if you can. It’s great if you can’t.
Formula feeding has a shady past, no doubt. It was marketed to drive mothers to spend money they didn’t need to on their kids and women were told that their natural ability to breastfeed was inferior to powder in a can. That is wrong for so many reasons. But we’ve swung so far in the opposite direction now that instead of providing new mothers feeding support in general, we’re providing them with a ton of breastfeeding information (not enough actual hands on support, though…I’ll vouch for that) and then demonizing them if they cannot or (gasp!) choose not to breast feed. Meanwhile, those mothers who aren’t breastfeeding for whatever reason have no idea bout different formulas, different bottles, methods for preparing and cleaning and so on. I took a day long class on breastfeeding and then there were lactation consultants that came to my room each day at the hospital. I was not once told about formula and the differences and how to use it properly. Not once. I was handed some bottles and told “Oh, it’s Similac month” as the nurse walked out the door.
That was it. That was the extent of my formula feeding education.
Now the debate can and should rage on in the medical community about the benefits of breastfeeding and–yes, there are some–benefits of formula feeding for the development of babies. But here’s what I’ve learned as a purveyor of scientific data and lover of charts and research methods since I had these problems with breastfeeding: the vast majority (at least 75%) of the research out there on breastfeeding and the long term effects on children versus formula feeding are all about correlation and not about causation. Any first year grad student could point out problems with the study design including but not limited to: sample size, duration of study, confounding variables, family structure, genetics, socioeconomic status and so much more.
Breastfeeding is great. It’s a great way to feed your children and it has many benefits–some of which science has figured out and some of which it can figure out in the future. But formula feeding has benefits too. Partners can help. Mothers can have choices about their bodies. Mothers can go back to work and not have to worry about having a job that allows for pumping. And in situations where food allergies and intolerance are an issue for the infant, formula can provide the necessary nutrients in a hypoallergenic package that breast milk sometimes cannot do.
I didn’t take issue with Mayor Bloomberg taking formula gift bags out of the hospitals in New York City before. I kind of do now. Because as someone who prepared to exclusively breast feed and then brought home two hungry newborns, we scrambled to make choices about formula and had nothing on hand. Nothing. So that gift bag would have made that first day a lot easier on us. Even if it never got used.
There are also so many women who find breastfeeding repulsive. Who want to hide women away from doing it in public. To me, that’s just as wrong as making formula feeding moms speak in hushed voices. We love breasts being in our faces all the time…as long as they’re not being used for what nature’s intended purpose. How wrong is that? Every time we make a comment about a breastfeeding mom in public, we’re reproducing the misogyny that women are nothing but veiled sex objects and it’s objectionable to see a breast in any other form. No one is forcing you to look at it just as no one is forcing you to look at my baby’s bottle. Would I personally prefer to do it somewhere else or under a cover? Sure. Do I think everyone needs to make that choice in all settings? Not really.
It is hard enough being a mom. It really is. People say “oh you don’t know until you have kids.” It’s not that you don’t know it’s hard. I think all people recognize that. They just don’t get what parts of it are hard. No one imagines the immense pressure to be a great parent is part of that burden. We shouldn’t add to it by demonizing those who formula feed or those who breastfeed in any way shape or form.
My suggestions are simple:
1. Add a class for infant feeding and nutrition that talks about breast feeding and formula feeding and is open to both.
2. Add feeding consultants at hospitals that are knowledgeable about formula but not paid for by the formula companies. Also beef up the lactation consultants–the ones I had weren’t very good at all. Probably wasn’t the reason why it didn’t work for me but it certainly didn’t help just to be told to “keep up the good work!” when I was sitting there crying out for help.
3. Stop talking in hushed tones if you bottle feed. Stop hiding your nursing if you breast feed. You don’t have to tell your life story to strangers and you don’t have to whip out your boob in the middle of the mall…though both would be fine by me. But don’t lurk in the shadows because the system is set up that way. To hell with the system.
4. For the love of God, stop condemning the choices of others about how they feed their kids as long as their kids are getting fed and are loved.
For breastfeeding moms: the best resource I found was Kellymom. I will say, though, that while the information is not presented with bias, there is a lack of information about transitioning out of breastfeeding if it doesn’t work for you. It’s kind of assumed that it will work. The La Leche League site is useful but is very judgmental so use it with a grain of salt…or a bucket of salt. Just get some salt when you sit down and use it. Sadly, they do have all of the best info about specific breastfeeding issues out there and the cost of admission is total judgment. So I won’t link to them.
For formula feeding moms: the best resources for me are Fearless Formula Feeder and Bottle Babies (which is worldwide, so formula information is sometimes hard to wade through). The site and the Facebook page in particular have been lifesavers. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that.
And the most important question of all is…
What has your experience been and what did you need when you were feeding your infant?